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Some Great Historic and Nature Sites to Visit in England and Wales

I love history; it forms the basis of my interest in genealogy and has an influence on our itinerary when on family holidays.

nathanville-uk

Some Great Places We’ve Visited in Britain

When on holiday, other than the beeches, and sightseeing, we like to visit places of historic interest or where we can experience some of the wildlife. So in this Article I take you on a brief tour of some of those places which we’ve visited; and thoroughly enjoyed.

Follow me on my travels around Britain to see some of the wonders of these English Castles, Historical sites, Nature Reserves and Wildlife parks; and read about the Mistral story, a swan in Harwich with her love triangle.

On my tour around Britain I take a peek at some interesting British Castles; Architectural sites and historical buildings in cities, towns and villages; Victorian engineering and windmills; air shows; British wildlife in their natural habitat, animal parks, zoos and Living museums.

Castles Through the Ages

2000 Years of British Castles

A detailed description and photos of British castles built from Roman Times to modern day visited by me over the years, while on holiday or day trips in England and Wales, are reviewed more fully in my other articles on HubPages and YouTube; they include:-

  • Colchester, Hedingham and Mountfitchet castles in Essex
  • Legoland, Windsor
  • Warwick Castle, Warwickshire
  • Berkeley Castle, Berkeley, Gloucestershire and,
  • Lulworth Castle. Dorset

Below is a brief overview of just three of these magnificent castles worth visiting:

  • Mountfitchet Castle in Southeast England,
  • Cardiff Castle in South Wales, and
  • Conwy Castle in North Wales.
Inner defence at Mountfitchet castle

Inner defence at Mountfitchet castle

Mountfitchet Castle 1066

An Early Norman Castle Defence

Mountfitchet Castle is a prime example of an early wooden Norman Defence built shortly after their invasion and occupation of Britain in 1066. As the Norman foothold on Britain became established so their early wooden defences were replaced with more substantial and more commonly recognisable Norman castles built from stone.

Mountfitchet Castle prides itself on the freedom and happiness of all its animals, many of which have come from less happy backgrounds; some of the chickens are rescued from battery farms, the goats are either unwanted or outgrown pets and the deer are either road accident victims or orphans. They feel it is essential for all their animals to roam freely, and for visitors, both young and old, to have a "hands-on" experience with them.

Many of the breeds are exactly as the Normans would have kept for meat and milk; animals in Norman times were prized possessions, a herd of sheep, or better still, fallow deer, was a great status symbol - the deer only being hunted by the Baron or Lord. The punishment for deer-poaching was the removal of a hand or for a subsequent offence, the death penalty.

Mountfitchet Castle

Mountfitchet Castle

Map Location of Mountfitchet Castle

Cardiff Castle

A Victorian Folly in South Wales

Cardiff Castle, on the outskirts of Cardiff, south Wales is a Victorian Folly, although it is built above a magnificent Roman Wall which has now been excavated and open to the public, and parts of an original Norman Castle sites in the grounds of Cardiff Castle. This is a great castle to visit for a day out and time permitting you may also want to spend an hour or two window shopping in Cardiff city High Street.

Map Location of Cardiff Castle, Wales

Conwy Castle

A Medieval Castle in North Wales

Conwy Castle which overlooks Conwy town and bay in North Wales was built by King Edward I in the 13th century keep the welsh at bay. The castle is in partial ruins but it is a large building complex and much of the original structure still stands so it makes a great day out for anyone who loves history and is holidaying in the area; and for budding photography enthusiasts there’s plenty of potential for taking great photographs.

Map Location of Conwy Castle, North Wales

Historical Buildings

Wherever you travel around Britain there are always plenty of historical buildings and castles to be found.

Historical Places I’ve visited while on holiday, or on day trips, in England and Wales which have made for an enjoyable and fulfilling day out include:-

  • Flatford Mill, Suffolk, the famous setting for John Constable paintings
  • St Fagan Historical Village in South Wales, highly recommended
  • The organ and clock mechanism at the 500 year old Hutton Church in Weston-Super-Mare
  • Glastonbury Tor, Somerset
  • The Roman Baths at Bath, near Bristol
  • Cricket St Thomas, Somerset, the setting of the famous TV series "To The Manor Born"
  • Layer Marney Tower, Colchester, Essex
  • Mountfitchet Castle, a Living Norman Village of 1066 and the House On The Hill Toy Museum at Mountfitchet, Essex
  • Prior Hall Barn, Essex
  • Tinton Abbey in Wales, and
  • Victorian wind and water pumps on the Norfolk Broads, including Red Mill and Horsey Windmills.
Reconstruction of Round Houses at St Fagan Historical Village, South Wales.

Reconstruction of Round Houses at St Fagan Historical Village, South Wales.

St Fagan Historical Village

Historical Buildings in South Wales

St Fagan Historical Village (near Cardiff, Wales) is a Museum of Welsh Life that makes for a great day out. St Fagan Village is comprised of a large collection of historical buildings from across Wales that have been dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt on site to give a spectacular tour of Welsh buildings and life through the ages from Viking times to the present day.

St Fagan Historical Village

St Fagan Historical Village

Map Location of St Fagan, Wales

Chester Architecture and History

A Roman City Steeped in History

While visiting Chester on a day trip we wondered around some of back streets near the park and stumbled across some great medieval ruins as shown in this video clip I made; and wondering into the city centre I also filmed the exactions being made of the Roman Amphitheatre. As with all historic cities across Britain provided you know where to look there is always great historic architecture to be found. If you don’t happen to know of good historic architecture before your visit you may be lucky and stumble across something really special from the past if you get a spare bit of time to explore some of the older parts of the city, away from the High Street and city centre, where original structures may still exist.

Chester Squirrels

Urban Wildlife in Their Natural Habitat

In our back garden, which is organically gardened, we have frequent nightly visits from the local wildlife including a family of urban foxes and hedgehogs; and with the help of our wildlife pond plenty of newts, toads and frogs; and during the day plenty of birds in the neighbouring trees.

However, in on our travels around Britain it’s great when we happen upon wildlife in their natural habitat, and even better if we happen to have a camera to hand; and the animal, creature or bird stay around long enough for us to film them, as was the case with these squirrels which I filmed while on a day trip to Chester.

Map Location of Chester City

Red Mill

A Victorian Windmill with Inner Beauty

Red Mill is a derelict Windmill on the Norfolk Broads which is now rented out as a holiday home. On first approaching the Windmill from across the fields it looks very much like a derelict windmill, but first impressions are very deceptive. Once there, it is a windmill of Inner Beauty, and a most wonderful place from which to holiday.

If you love nature, wildlife and the countryside, and the isolation of the place then you certainly will enjoy Red Mill on Haddiscoe island in the Norfolk Broads.

Red Mill, built during the Victorian era stands on a triangular inland island of about 2000 acres of marsh land. The Windmill on Haddiscoe island, in the Norfolk Broads, is about 4.8 miles off the road and takes about 20 minutes to drive across fields at about 15mph which is the fastest one can safely drive on the dirt tracks from road to mill. A most wonderful 20 minutes journey each time being confronted by a wide variety of wildlife, including swans, owls, herons, hairs, dears, sheep, cows, and black bulls.

Red Mill, Norfolk Broads, England

Red Mill, Norfolk Broads, England

Red Mill and its Wildlife

Victorian Water Windmill Converted to Holiday Flats

During one of our holidays to the Norfolk Broads we rented Red Mill for the week as a holiday cottage with a difference. Sitting on the banks of the River Yare in an isolated location on the Norfolk Broads made for spectacular views, total privacy and lots of wildlife; as shown in this video which I made during the week.

It’s one holiday I would recommend to anyone wishing for a bit of an adventure and for something a little bit unique and out of the ordinary.

Location of Red Mill, Haddiscoe Island, Norfolk Broads, England

British Museums

For a Great Day Out

Museums are always a fascination, some of the more memorable museums I've visited over the years and which I would highly recommend visiting include: -

  • The Tank Museum - Bovington, Dorset
  • Charlestown Shipwreck & Heritage Centre, Cornwall
  • FirePower and the Natural History Museum, London
  • Horsey Windmill on Norfolk Broads
  • Toad Hole Cottage Museum on the River Ant on the Broads, and
  • Flixton Aircraft Museum, Suffolk

Lulworth Castle Museum in Dorset, although not highly recommend is worth a short visit if you happen to be passing the area and have a couple of hours to spare. Unless that is Lulworth happen to be putting on a special event for the day, such as a medieval show, as they did when we were in the area; then in which case it will make for a great day out.

Charlestown Shipwreck & Heritage Centre, St Austell, Cornwall

Charlestown Shipwreck & Heritage Centre, St Austell, Cornwall

FirePower

Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich, London

FIREPOWER the Royal Artillery Museum, located in the historic Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, South East London (a short riverside walk from the Woolwich Ferry) is the most memorable museum we've visited and well worth visiting. It's a large museum so you'll need to spend all day there. FirePower, tells the story of artillery of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and the history of the ordnance manufacturing that for 300 years dominated the Arsenal.

The museum is well laid out and contains many exhibits including a selection of VC Medals. One such medal being that of Thomas Arthur VC as featured on my Nathanville Family History website.

War Memorial in Woolwich, London

War Memorial in Woolwich, London

Location of Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich, London

Beamish (Living Museum of Victorian Life in North West England)

Portraying 18th and 19th century Life in Northern England

I love living museums because you get a real feel for what life was like in the period being portrayed. In the case of Mountfitchet Castle it's the Norman period just after the Norman Invasion of 1066, for Beamish it's the late Georgian to early Edwardian period.

When we visited Beamish I made this short film and in post-production I re-mastered the video in the style of early 20th century films befitting for showcasing such a wonderful living museum. The late Victorian and early Edwardian public transport featured in this video is all authentic for the period and is available to the visiting public for free public transport to get around the Beamish complex from time period to time period; essential because of the huge size of Beamish.

For anyone holidaying in Northern England I highly recommend Beamish and if possible, because of its size, try to make it a two day visit. The tickets are valid for a year so there are no extra entrance fees for turning up a second day to visit Beamish. And anyone who loves the traditional British Chip (French Fries) will be in for a treat as an authentic Victorian Chip Shop has been reconstructed in the late Victorian/early Edwardian mining village complex at Beamish.

Location of Beamish Living Museum of Northern England

Wildlife Animal Parks and Zoos

Nature and Wildlife in Britain

In Britain there's numerous Wildlife Animal Parks and Zoos to be found, The Big Sheep' and `The Milky Way' being just two of the 15 Animal and Fun Parks in Devon. Other places we've visited include:-

  • Cricket St Thomas near Chard, Somerset
  • Whipsnade Wildlife Animal Park
  • Colchester Zoo
  • Longleat Safari Park at Bath, and
  • Bristol Zoo

For the best experience of being with the animals, Mountfitchet castle is hard to beat. Mountfitchet being a living museum of a Norman village set in 1066 with animals roaming the village as they would have done in Norman times; so there are no fences or barriers between you and the animals.

For animals in the wild, in their natural habitat, such as squirrels, badgers, foxes, newts, toads, frogs and wildlife birds, you may chance upon them anywhere in the countryside, or in your back garden. However, for the more exotic, unusual and dangerous animals you'll really do need to see them in a Zoo or a Wildlife Park where for the more dangerous animals in particular visitors and animals are usually kept separated by fences and screens for safety.

Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo

The Mistral Story

As Told by Patroller Eileen Tyrer (HEAT)

Read about Mistral, on Nathanville. Mistral, named because she came to the Harwich area in the windy month of March 1999, has had a sad and chequered life. She had two mates between 1999 and 2001 who were both killed in another part of Dovercourt, Essex. So the Harwich Environmental Action Team (HEAT) moved her in the summer of 2001 to the ponds in Dovercourt for her own safety. Since then she has had four other mates including two love triangles involving Freedom (a Hooper swan with a yellow beak), which is unusual not only because swans normally mate for life but also because Mistral is a Mute Swan (Orange beak) and the two species of swans don't usually interbreed.

Visit The Mistral Story on my Nathanville website for the full story.

Mistral and Family

Mistral and Family

A True Story of Mistral the Swan in Essex, England

Every summer we use to spend a week in Dovercourt to visit relatives. Dovercourt is a small coastal town adjoining Harwich, an equally small port town in Essex. While in Dovercourt we’d always make a point of saying hello to Mistral and her family if they happened to be on the local village pond, which they frequently were. Sometimes however she would take her family further along the cost to the rivers and dykes so we may not see her for days-on-end.

One year on our annual visit to Dovercourt by chance we happened to meet Eileen Tyrer at the Harwich Medieval Harvest Festival; a street event where local residents dressed in medieval costume for the day. We got chatting with Eileen, a prominent member of the Harwich Environmental Action Team, about Mistral. The Harwich Environmental Action Team took great pride in looking after the health and welfare of Mistral, their ’star’ swan in Dovercourt, and Eileen was keen to learn of our interest Mistral. From then on we kept in touch be email and between our visits Eileen would keep us posted on the progress and Mistral and her family.

I made this short video below in memory of this very special swan from Harwich, which starts with my son feeding Mistral’s young and concludes with a slideshow.

Location of Where Mistral Lived (Dovercourt, Essex, England)

A photographic journey through the Cotswolds - Hardcover Book

Cities, Town and Villages

Great Urban Places to Visit in England

The picture below shows a full size replica of the Matthew which is often docked in Bristol. The Matthew is a modern recreation of the square rigged sailing ship used by John Cabot who sailed from Bristol to discover Newfoundland, Canada in 1497. Whereas Christopher Columbus, who didn’t actually discover North America itself, discovered and explored the group of islands between mainland North America and South America on his four maiden voyages to the Americas between 1492 and 1502. Bristol Docks, in the city centre of Bristol has long since ceased trading as commercial docks and is now been revitalised into a modern tourist attraction with lots to see including the SS Great Britain, built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel on permanent display, Industrial Museum, the Arnolfini (innovative works in modern theatre and visual arts open to the public), and the At-Bristol, a hands-on exploratory visitors centre.

There are many great cities, towns and villages across Britain (more than I can list here) that are worthy a visit on a day trip or holiday.

Just a few of the many urban places I’ve visited in the South West (south west England) and the Cotswolds which I highly recommend visiting for their local attractions, historical value or for just a great day out window shopping in the High street shops include places like:

  • Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Tewkesbury
  • Gloucester
  • Bath
  • Bristol
  • Cheddar Gorge, and
  • Weston-Super-Mare
The Matthew sailed by John Cabot from Bristol to discover Newfoundland, Canada in 1497.

The Matthew sailed by John Cabot from Bristol to discover Newfoundland, Canada in 1497.

Twinned towns of Lynton and Lynmouth, Devon

The two towns of Lyn

If travelling through Devon on holiday anytime then I highly recommend making a detour to include a stop at Lynton and Lynmouth for a few hours. I’ve been to this quaint small coastal town a couple of times and on both occasions it made for an enjoyable day, except for the very steep cliff road in order to get to Lynmouth. Lynton and Lynmouth is a great destination for a quiet day out by the sea, and while there it’s worth a trip on their Victorian cliff side water powered gravity fed train to get to Lynton from Lynmouth and explore the tourist shops on the top of the cliff.

As you may have guessed from above, the town of Lynton is at the top of the cliff and Lynmouth is at the bottom by the sea. Running through the middle of Lynmouth are two rivers (one coming from Lynton above) that join to make one large river outlet leading straight into the sea.

The word Lyn aka Lynn and Lynne is an ‘Old English’ word of Celtic origin that means pool or lake. The word ‘ton’ in ‘Old English’ means ‘enclosure, estate or homestead’ and the word ‘mouth’ in ‘Old English’ means a mouth of a river leading out to sea. Hence you can see why and how these two fascinating twinned towns derived their names form ‘Old English’.

The video below is of our last trip to Lynton and Lynmouth and includes a video clip of our trip on their free powered cliff side train powered from water and gravity e.g. water tanks in the train at the top of the cliff fills with water while the train at the bottom empties it water tank so that once the breaks are released the descending (heavier) train pulls the train at the bottom up the cliff.

Location of Lynton and Lynmouth, Devon, England

Air shows and Aircraft Museums in England

Various memorable Air Shows I’ve visited in England over the years includes:

  • Duxford air show, Cambridge
  • Yeovilton air show, Somerset
  • Flixton aircraft museum in Flixton, Bungay, Suffolk
  • The Bristol hot air balloon festival
  • The helicopter air museum at Weston-Super-Mare (the largest helicopter museum in the world), and
  • Hendon air museum, London with over 100 aircraft in five themed aircraft halls.

Flixton aircraft museum in the Norfolk broads, Suffolk, the helicopter air museum, Weston-Super-Mare and Hendon air museum, London are the most memorable air museums I’ve visited. While the Bristol hot air balloon festival and the Yeovilton air show being the most spectacular air show displays I’ve been to; although Duxford is quite spectacular and well worth a visit.

Plane under repair at Flixton air museum

Plane under repair at Flixton air museum

Yeovilton Air Show

Spectacular Day Out

The Yeovilton Air Show is one of the better shows with a distinct naval flavour and a set piece where the based Sea Kings converge on the airfield carrying underslung loads; quite impressive. For further information and updates of this and other air shows visit www.airshows.co.uk

Yeovilton is just one of many air show in the UK and although planes are the main feature there are often other attractions such as with the 1990s Yeovilton air show that not only included a full day's display of planes in the air (and on the ground) but also included Concorde, meet the Americans and their E-3 Sentry (AWACS), and a splendid display of vintage cars.

Air Show at Yeovilton

Air Show at Yeovilton

Map Location of Yeovilton Air Show

Helicopters Air Formation Display at Weston-Super-Mare

On one of our many day trips to Weston-Super-Mare, a seaside holiday resort town on the southwest coast of England, and only an hour’s drive from Bristol, we spent an enjoyable afternoon at the local helicopter museum; the largest helicopter museum in the world. And while we were at the museum they put on a short air display of five helicopters coming into land in formation; which I filmed, as shown in the short video clip below.

Map Location of Weston-Super-Mare

World Military Helicopters - Hardcover Book

Holiday Flat in the Lake District

Holiday Flat in the Lake District

Virtual Tours Around the UK - Give it a Whirl

Want to see England from the comfort of your armchair then give these links a whirl and see where you end up.

  • Britain Express Virtual Tour
    Are you planning your first trip to England? Not sure where to go or what to see? We've put together a region by region virtual tour of England, showing the highlights of each area.
  • British Virtual Tours 360
    Quicktime VR's of historic sights in Britain that you can visit on our personal tours. Hampton Court Palace, Gloucester Cathedral, Stonehenge, the Tower of London, Oxford etc...
  • Virtual Tour of Britain
    Our site includes almost two hundred photographs from around Great Britain. The tour is divided into six separate areas ranging from the English countryside to urban England. Click on an image to begin your virtual journey around the British Isles!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2007 Arthur Russ

Your Comments

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 13, 2017:

Thanks to everyone for all your feedback.

Iudit Gherghiteanu from Ozun on November 12, 2011:

this is so great , i will use it, definitely. thank you for it.

religions7 on June 02, 2009:

Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

papawu on May 23, 2009:

Very well done and comprehensive look at travel and holiday in the UK and Europe. I have actually done quite a bit of reading on the history of Engand, most recently about the area around Salisbury. If you are a fiction reader at all, I highly recommend "SARUM The Novel of England." I think you will find it to be fairly historically accurate minus the stories around which the author takes some literary liscence. I have a lens on it as well.

Oosquid on February 12, 2009:

Nice lens. Great information on many places that I have yet to visit, I must get around to doing so. 5 stars.

rewards4life info on January 02, 2009:

Great lens, I have visited some of the places mentioned and have Duxford near me which is a fantastic day out. Very informative and beautifully put together. 5*

allinfoisfree on November 19, 2008:

Awesome lens! Great info! 5 *'s!

louisekasemeier on September 02, 2008:

What a great lens! The Windmill looks beautiful, I'd love to stay there sometime. I gave you 5 stars. Louise at the British Vacation Guide

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anonymous on May 05, 2008:

Wow!

What a great informative lens here, this is really very interesting about historical information. Generally many UK or other UK people also like this type of historical places and houses. I like red mill is very great and looking so nice.

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Tiddledeewinks LM on March 13, 2008:

I rated you 5*'s and rolled you on to my England lens! Great job! Isn't this fun! I don't have time for anything else with 3 (soon to be 4) in the family waiting their turn on slow dial-up to make more lenses! LOL

jagiyadav on March 11, 2008:

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anonymous on March 01, 2008:

Lovely lens! We shall visit Mountfitchet Castle next off-day (We are edge-of-London residents)!!! Thank you for fun information. If you are interested in, please visit my medieval style jewellery lens at kotomi-jewelry

blastfromthepas1 on October 26, 2007:

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photogold on September 23, 2007:

You have a very informative lens . I have just started a group about castles and I'd like to invite you to join my

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Karendelac on July 13, 2007:

Great lens, 5 stars, thank you for sharing this with me. Please visit me soon.

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Barkely on June 03, 2007:

Beautiful photos and great information.

Arthur Russ (author) from England on March 27, 2007:

For all our Mistral fans on MSN, the Mistral updates for 2005 to 2007 are now on available at The Mistral Story. Read the full story on Mistral the Swan and her love triangle.

giddygabby on March 25, 2007:

Good grief. I meant to say that I have always wanted to bask ...!

giddygabby on March 15, 2007:

I've always wanted to basque in the tropical waters of the Bahamas, lolling the time away in a lanai on the beach or a well-trimmed and fitted sailboat. Alas, 'tis but a dream.

Arthur Russ (author) from England on March 08, 2007:

Welcome to Nathanville UK. Explore the relevant links and photo album links and tell us about your own holiday experiences.